I was honored with a behind the scenes tour led by my friend, Thomas Hornisberger, Chief of the Bindery Unit at the United Nations Library in Geneva Switzerland.
On a warm and sunny Good Friday, I was taken through security and onto the grounds of the United Nations and the home of the League of Nations. Because Good Friday is a public holiday in Geneva, the halls were empty except for tourists led around by a guide and I was able to photograph and see as many unlocked room in the main building. And because I’m a huge nerd, I couldn’t resist having my own pretend fun.
Thomas escorted me to his workshop where he’s in charge of restoring books, maps, and other archives for the United Nations library and for UN exhibitions in Geneva and across the globe. From his office windows, one can see the UN gardens and the rest of Geneva in the distance.
The workshop was still and empty except for materials to repair some of the rarest and most precious documents on the subject of global politics and international peace. Thomas showed me a map of Finland he was restoring for an exhibition dated 1836. Carefully moistening the map to remove the folded creases, it was evident that his nearly thirty years of experience became second nature over time and much practice. He then showed me his binding tools, official stamps and even a special embossing stamp he made custom for Kofi Annan, the seventh Secretary General of the United Nations. He said that the average restoration can take weeks. There was a pile of books waiting in line for their bindings and embossing at the end of the workshop.
I asked Thomas if he had any other colleagues in the department. He said there was at one time eight experts working in the department, but one by one each retired leaving him the sole responsible for the UN’s archival restorations. Fortunately, he said, he doesn’t mind working alone and that his job is more of a passion than anything else.
We exited his workshops and the main building to tour the impeccably maintained gardens. The UN peacock wandered about in the shadows and ducks rested in the shade next to Woodrow Wilson’s globe statue. Statues, gifts from various countries and world leaders, sprinkled throughout the park a symbol to changing social beliefs and political powers.
The tour was very special for me as having majored in International Affairs and Comparative Politics at the University of North Florida, the UN and its charters set a major foundation in the constructs of global politics and human rights. The UN is one of the few institutions, albeit imperfect, that demonstrates the ability of mankind to unite for common ideals of peace and liberty. I give much gratitude to Tom for having shared his work and his passion with me. Thank you, Tom.